Why AEW’s Owen Hart Foundation Partnership Has Wrestling Fans Divided

Owen Hart was unquestionably one of the best in-ring workers to ever set foot in a WWE ring. The youngest of Canadian wrestling legend Stu Hart’s 12 children, Owen first rose to prominence in WWE during the early-mid-’90s, as he entered a lengthy feud with his older brother Bret “The Hitman” Hart and proved to be just the type of character fans loved to hate. He played the role of the jealous, whiney little brother to the hilt, and when he and Bret tearfully reconciled en route to the reformation of the Hart Foundation as a villainous faction, it was hard for fans not to shed tears despite the heelish nature of the angle.

Then, on May 23, 1999, it was all over way too soon. After Bret left WWE on bad terms in 1997 over the real-life double-cross known as the Montreal Screwjob, Owen remained in the company, and it was at the Over the Edge pay-per-view that he took part in a risky stunt that cost him his life; while being lowered into the ring, the harness supporting him broke while he was more than 70 feet in the air. Understandably, this resulted in bad blood between Owen’s family and WWE, and despite his greatness, he has yet to be inducted into the promotion’s Hall of Fame.

While Owen’s widow, Martha, and his two grown children have been against the idea of WWE honoring him in such a way, they haven’t been opposed to other companies doing the same. This was evidenced on September 20 when the nonprofit Owen Hart Foundation and All Elite Wrestling announced (via Wrestling Inc.) a partnership that would include, among other things, an annual tournament named after the late grappler.

Many are glad to see AEW give Hart the posthumous respect he deserves

As stated in the press release sent to Wrestling Inc. and other publications, the partnership between AEW and the Owen Hart Foundation will allow the upstart promotion to release action figures, clothing, and other merchandise based on the wrestler’s likeness, as well as possibly include him in its highly anticipated video game for consoles. However, the most interesting detail in the statement is the mention of the Owen Hart Cup Tournament. While further details on the event are still scant, we do know that its winners will receive a cup called “The Owen,” similar to how the winners of the annual battle royal at WWE’s WrestleMania get a trophy of the company’s first-ever Hall of Famer, Andre the Giant.

Given how it’s been more than two decades since he was last recognized by the company he worked for at the time of his death, many Twitter users have reacted positively to the news. Sports Illustrated wrestling writer Justin Barrasso called the move a “wonderful tribute” to Hart’s legacy, while WWE on Fox analyst Ryan Satin wrote that he hopes Mark Henry — one of Hart’s closest friends in the WWE locker room (via Mirror) and now an AEW commentator — “had a hand” in making the deal happen. Users such as LocalSoundwave were likewise pleased with the news, telling their fellow fans to “just be happy someone is finally getting to honor Owen Hart’s legacy” and adding that many younger viewers “genuinely know nothing about him.”

Other fans see the move as Martha Hart's revenge against WWE

Since Owen Hart’s death, there has been much debate over whether his widow should allow WWE to honor Owen Hart and his contributions to the company. Some feel Martha Hart is right to deny such an opportunity to a company that didn’t just carry out a haphazard stunt but also refused to call the pay-per-view even after it became clear Owen was seriously injured. Others argue that she should let go of her past grudges and let WWE pay respect to one of its brightest stars of the 1990s. That debate was still very much alive on Twitter as reactions came in following AEW and the Owen Hart Foundation’s joint announcement.

In a pair of replies to YouTuber Wrestlelamia‘s tweet praising the deal, AlanNadeau2016 suggested that Martha is likely “sitting back laughing” at her husband’s former employer, while realgentlemanty argued that everyone in Owen’s family — except Martha — wants him inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. More pointedly, a third user wished that WWE chairman McMahon would sue AEW “for every dollar they are worth,” adding, “Using Owen Hart like this is just taunting WWE. His family is sick for agreeing to this. He was a WWE guy no matter what.” This comment got a lot of heat from other users, with another wrestling YouTuber, Jason Solomon, taking a screenshot of the post and encouraging his followers not to “be like these people.”

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